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To The 


Published by 

The Ivri Publishing Society. Ltd.. 



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^HULAMMITE in the " Song of Songs " exclaimed: 

" Look not upon me that I am swarthy, for the 
sun has tanned me." 

Those words rose to my mind when I decided to write the 
following essay on "The Sabbath." This first and most 
sacred Institution of the Jcivish nation has, in the course 
of history, passed through so many transmigrations, and 
has received so many misinterpretations both by religious 
fanatics and heretics, that its true meaning and merits arc 
no longer appreciated, and the people can no longer derive 
from this glorious and ancient Institutiot the benefits and 
blessings it was supposed to confer upon them. 

I therefore cherish the hope that the following sketch 
will serve some useful purpose, will at least induce some 
of its readers to devote to this subject a few moments of 
serious thought. 

It is gratifying to state that there are at the present 
moment two strong movements, which strive to restore to 
the Sabbath its ancient, its original, dignity and influence. 
One is known by the name of " Oneg Sabbath," with its 
headquarters in Tel-Aviv, the other is spreading rapidh/ 
with the slogan of "Shomre Sabbath," it is controlled by a 
strong and influential Committee in Berlin under the 
presidentship of a well-known scholar, Dozent Dr. Samuel 
(Iriinberg. A great and imposing Mass Meeting in favour 
of the "Shomre Sabbath," which took place in Berlin on 
the 16th of February, was addressed by a number of leading 
Rabbis and scholars. Author's Note. 

The Sabbath 

THE teleological doctrine is the basis of the Jewish 
religion. God created the world for a definite purpose. 
The final cause of Creation is the ultimate destiny of 
man, whom Providence has endowed with a free-will to 
enable him to fulfil his great mission in history. In his 
hard and desperate struggle for his existence, exposed to 
the hostile elements of nature, and more especially to the 
brutal rivalry of his fellow-men, his will is often curbed 
and repressed and diverted from its natural bent. The 
Sabbath was, therefore, instituted as a day of perfect rest 
and freedom, on which he should be in a position to allow 
all his faculties — physical, mental and moral — full play 
without any interference from without. The Bible, there- 
fore, connects the Sabbath both with the creation of the 
world and with the redemption from Egypt. In the Ten 
Commandments it occupies the next place to the proclama- 
tion of the oneness of God, whose name must not be taken 
in vain and applied to false idols. It reads: "Observe the 
Sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord thy God 
commanded thee. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all 
thy work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto the 
Lord : in it thou shalt not do any manner of work, 
thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy man- 
servant, nor thy maid-servant. . . . And thou shalt remem- 
ber that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and the 
Lord thy God brought thee out thence by a mighty hand 
and by an outstretched arm : therefore the Lord thy God 
commanded thee to kep the Sabbath day." (Deut. v. 



It was for this reason that the period of service of any 
Hebrew who sold himself because of dire distress was 
limited to six years. The seventh year was his Sabbatical 
year, on which he regained his liberty. It was, moreover, 
the duty of his relatives, and, if sold to a Gentile, the 
duty of the whole Jewish community, to ransom him. If 
he himself, for any private reason, preferred to continue 
his servile work in spite of his Sabbatical year, he was 
publicly disgraced and branded as a slave. And even he 
was set free par force in the year of Jubilee, the seven times 
hallowed Sabbatical year. "For," says the Lord, "unto 
Me the children of Israel are servants, whom I brought 
forth out of the land of Egypt" (Lev. xxv. 55); not the 
servants of servants, explain the Rabbis. 


IT is thus clear that the main object of the Sabbath and 
of the Sabbatical year was to impress every Jew with 
the idea of personal freedom, of his higher mission as a 
member of the human race, and thus also with the idea of 
the equality of all men. From the story that Moses had a 
man stoned to death because he was found gathering sticks 
on the Sabbath day (Num. xv. 32-36) we can see how 
strictly it was observed in ancient times. Jeremiah, who 
witnessed the decay and fall of Judaea, rebuked the kings of 
Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem for their disre- 
gard of that sacred injunction. "Take heed for the sake of 
your souls," he exclaimed, "and bear no burden on the 
Sabbath day .... neither do ye any work, but 
hallow ye the Sabbath day, as I commanded your 
fathers." (Jer. xvii. 20-22.) In Iisaiah (Chap, lvi.) 
we read: "Happy is the man that doeth this, and 
the son of man that holdeth fast by it ; that keepeth the 
Sabbath day from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from 
doing any evil. . . . Also the aliens that join themselves to 
the Lord, to be His servants. Everyone that keepeth the 


Sabbath from profaning it, and holdeth fast by My 
covenant, even them will I bring to My holy mountain and 
make them joyful in my house of prayer." Nehemiah 
regarded it as one of his most meritorious deeds, for which 
he deserved the blessings of God, for having instructed the 
Levites to keep the gates of Jerusalem closed to sanctify 
the Sabbath day. When Antiochus Epiphanes tried to 
force on the Jewish people the profanation of the day of 
rest, many of the faithful fled to the caves of the mountains 
of Judah and to hiding-places in the wilderness to find 
shelter and to resist the commands of the tyrant. When 
the king's officers "ran after them and set the battle in 
array against them on the Sabbath day," calling upon them 
to surrender to the will of the king, the besieged would not 
profane the sacred day even by blocking up their hiding- 
places, but said: "Let us die in our innocency." Arid they 
all perished, they and their wives and their children. 
(1 Mace. ii. 29-38). It was Mattathias and his friends who 
first determined to defend their lives if attacked on the 
Sabbath. For, they argued, "if we all do as our brethren 
have done ... we shall soon be destroyed from off the 
earth." That decision was later vindicated by the school 
of Shammai. Yet, when Pompey (63 b.c.e.) stormed the 
fortress of the Temple, the besieged did not defend the 
walls against the attack of the invaders on the Sabbath 
days., "and it thus happened that upon one Sabbath, in 
the month of Sivan, a breach was effected by which the 
Romans forced a way into the sanctuary." (Josephus. 
"Wars," I. vii. 3.) 

Maimonides (1135-1204 c.e.), the greatest codifier of 
Jewish law, concludes his chapter on the importance and 
observance of the Sabbath with the following remark : "The 
injunctions regarding the Sabbath are just as binding as 
those framed against idolatry; they surpass in importance 
all other laws. The desecration of the Sabbath is therefore 
tantamount to idolatry." (xxx. 15.) These words fully 


I- i HE SABBATH -■""""**"""""!" 

and forcibly endorse the definition of the Sabbath as a day 
intended to restore to man his freedom of will and human 
dignity, and thus to enable him to realise his position and 
mission as a member of the human race. 

Heinrich Heine embodied this idea in his famous poem 
"Princess Sabbath," in which he describes a man, whom 
God created in His own image, suddenly changed by "a 
witch's art to the figure of a dog. As a dog with doggish 
notions, all the week his time he muddles through life's 
filthiness and sweepings, to the scavengers' derision. But 
upon each Friday evening, just at twilight, the enchant- 
ment ceases suddenly — the dog once more is a human 
being. As a man with human feelings, with his head and 
breast raised proudly, dressed in festival attire, his 
paternal halls he enters." (Heine's poems, translated by 


NEEDLESS to say that the Sabbath was instituted for 
all men alike, that the law makes no distinction 
between the rich and poor, but it cannot be denied that it 
mainly benefits the working man. To the rich every day is 
a festive day. He often finds the day too long, and tries 
to kill time by various amusements. But the labourer 
whose hand has to raise the heaving hammer for many 
hours, or to lead the plough and to swing the pruning-knife 
in the burning sun, or to expose his face to the irritating 
glow of the furnace, he who sits bent over his work for 
hours and hours, and for days and days, so that his bent 
back aches, and his sore eyes burn with pain; all those 
poor men and women who return to their desolate homes 
and hard couches worn and weary, unable to turn their 
thoughts to any subject that demands a clear and rested 
mind; all those wretched human beings who sink gradually 
but surely deeper and deeper into the morass of sensualism, 
and whose brutalised feelings can only be gratified by mere 

:::::::::::::::::::::::: - THF SABBATH -= 

physical pleasures; they alone are able to appreciate a 
whole day devoted to rest, rest of body and mind. They 
are thus enabled, at least once in seven days, to give some 
thought to the nobler duties and ambitions of man. 

This idea, which has revolutionised modern society, 
was so strange even to the ablest thinkers of the ancient 
world that it became the subject of scorn and ridicule. In 
a world where the needy and destitute were treated as 
slaves, as outlaws, as soulless beings, the demand for a 
day of rest on such a day and the claim for equal rights 
and privileges seemed preposterous and outrageous. Apion 
spread the slanderous story that "the Jews celebrated the 
Sabbath because, travelling from Egypt for six days, they 
had buboes in their groins, but on the seventh day they 
rested and called that day Sabbath, for that malady of 
buboes was called Sabbatosis by the Egyptians." ("Contra 
Apionem.") Juvenal maintained that the Jew was lazy 
and slothful, wasting a sevnth part of his life in perfect 
inactivity. (Sat., xvi. 105-106: "Sed pater in causa, cui 
septima quceque fruit lux ignava et partem vitte non attigit 
ullam.") And Seneca sarcastically remarked, that "to 
remain idle every seventh day is to lose a seventh part of 
life." (Quoted by Augustine, "De Civ. Dei.," vi.) Tacitus 
and other leaders of Roman thought whose knowledge of 
Jewish rites was mainly drawn from wrong and misleading 
sources, joined in that chorus of slander. Yet, even in 
those days, in spite of all those venomous calumnies, the 
idea of the Sabbath gained many admirers and strong 
adherents, even among the Greeks and Romans. Josephus 
("Contra Apionem," ii. 40) could boast, without fear of 
contradiction, that there was in his time no city of the 
Greeks, nor any barbarian city, where the Sabbath was not 
reverently celebrated by the non-Jewish inhabitants, by 
kindling the Sabbath lamps and by observing it as a day of 
rest. That statement was fully endorsed by similar re- 
marks of Seneca and Dio Cassius. According to the Acts 


(xiii. 16, 34), Paul addressed in a synagogue in Antioch, in 
Pisidia, on a Sabbath day, a number of Gentiles or Prose- 
lytes who attended divine service. "And on the next Sabbath 
day came almost the whole city together to hear the word 
of God." (Ibid., 44.) A purer conception of human life, 
and of the divine as manifested in human life, gradually 
penetrated the befogged minds of the idolatrous multitude 
which had come under the religious influence of their 
Jewish neighbours, or of individual Jews who endeavoured 
to spread a better and purer knowledge of their religious 
ideas and institutions. Josephus and the Talmud mention, 
even the conversion of a whole royal family, of Queen 
Helene of Adiabene with her sons. 


THE first serious objections to the strict observance of 
the Sabbath were raised, according to the Gospels, by 
the founder of Christianity and his disciples. Thig is not 
the place for a discussion of the authenticity of the various 
versions referring to this fact; the fact itself can hardly be 
disputed. "The Sabbath, with its many restrictions and 
regulations," which, even in the opinion of a modern Jewish 
scholar and admirer of Jesus, "was upon the whole a joy 
and blessing to the immense majority of Jews throughout 
the Rabbinic period," was suddenly regarded and renounced 
as a legal burden, the violation of which was justifiable, as 
the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 
As an indirect refutation of that objection may be quoted 
Jehudah Halevi's verses in Mrs. E. N. Salaman's trans- 
lation ("Songs of Exile," 1901): — 

" Servants of time, lo! these be slaves of slaves; 
But the Lord's servant hath his freedom whole. 
Therefore, when every man his portion craves, 
' The Lord God is my portion,' saith my soul." 

T[D^::::!!x::T:::-THE SABBATH-: 

The late Dr. Schechter showed the fallacy of that anti- 
Sabbath argument in the following eloquent and telling 
sentences: "On the one side we hear . . . that the law 
was a most terrific burden, and the life under it the most 
unbearable slavery, deadening body and soul. On the other 
side we have the testimony of a literature extending over 
about twenty-five centuries, including . . . scholars, poets, 
mystics, lawyers . . . tradesmen, workmen, women 
simpletons, who all . . . give unanimous evidence in favour 
of the law, and of the bliss and happiness of living under 
it. And this the testimony of people who were actually 
living under the law, not merely theorising upon it, and 
who experienced it in all its difficulties and inconveniences. 
The Sabbath will give a fair example. This day is described 
... in the most gloomy colours. . . . But, on the other 
hand, the Sabbath is celebrated by the very people who did 
observe it, in hundreds of hymns which would fill volumes, 
as a day of rest and joy, of pleasure and delight; a day in 
which man enjoys some presentiment of the pure bliss and 
happiness stored up for the righteous in the world to come." 
(Jew. Quart. Eeview, vol. hi., pp. 762-763.) 

While Peter and his adherents among the Judeo- 
Christians continued to respect and to observe the religious 
customs and institutions of their people, Paul, either 
inspired by hostile feelings against his national traditions, 
or anxious to facilitate the conversion, of the heathers to 
Christianity, advocated the abrogation of all those laws 
which he characterised as mere ' 'shadows of the things to 
come." "Let no man judge you in meat," he impressed 
upon his audiences, "or in drink, or in respect of an holy 
day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days." (Col. ii. 
16.) The spirit of the Sabbath, however, had taken such 
hold of the new converts that they, notwithstanding their 
master's rebuke, turned again and again towards the 
observance of those religious rites which he ridiculed as 
"weak beggarly elements." (Gal. vi. 9.) It seems that it 
was mainly during the second century, when the observance 


of the Sabbath was severely punished by the Boman 
authorities, that the neo-Christians introduced the Sunday 
to take the place of the Sabbath, and, according to the 
"Epistle of Barnabas, "the Eesurrection, which was believed 
to have taken place on the first day, was sufficient reason 
for such a change. There was, however, yet another reason 
which is not frankly admitted. The change was thought 
imperative in order to preclude the weak members of the 
young Christian community from attending divine services 
in the Synagogues, from listening to sermons delivered by 
Rabbis, and thus, from "turning to bondage," that the 
"labour bestowed upon them' might not be frustrated. 


BUT though they changed time and name, though they 
decreed: "Dies Dominions non Judceis sed Christianis 
rcsurrectione Domini declaratus est," the Sunday retained 
the festive character of the Sabbath. Their effort to exclude 
the idea of any transference of obligation from the Sabbath 
to Sunday proved futile. Publicly they would not identify 
the Lord's day with the Jewish Sabbath, but the "Jdaical 
element" gradually increased during the Middle Ages, and 
especially since Luther and Calvin. It was admitted: "that 
human nature requires a day of rest from labour, the soul 
requires leisure for joint worship, therefore a day must be 
fixed for all. " 

The Jewish idea of the Sabbath in a different garb. 

In the seventeenth century leading English Protestants, 
Calvinists, and Puritans, aroused by "the scandals of the 
sixteenth-century Sunday," created a movement to restore 
to the Jewish Sabbath its ancient meaning, dignity, and 
importance. Nicholas Bownd with his "Sabbathum Veteris 
et Novi Testamenti" (1595), and Heylin with his "History 
oi the Sabbath," created quite a stir throughout the British 
Isles, and Parliament decided in favour of the Puritan 



Sabbath (1648-1656). Nicolas Bownd's book, which was 
translated into many Continental languages, created in 
Holland, Switzerland, and Bohemia a strong Sabbatarian 
movement. Francis David, first Unitarian Bishop of 
Transylvania (d. 1597), who won the adherence of over 400 
preachers with their churches and professors with their 
colleges, helped to raise the authority of the Sabbath. 
Unitarians to-day wield world-wide influence, and the 
Sabbatarian movement has its branches in the United 
States, in many countries of the European Continent, and 
possesses strong congregations even in South Africa. 

The prohibition of work on one day of the week, which 
the Grecian and Koman, writers ridiculed as a barbaric 
practice, is now a law enforced by the Parliaments of all 
civilised nations, compelling cessation from labour on Sun- 
days. This undoubtedly leads back to the Jewish Sabbath, 
and has proved a great boon and blessing to the working 
classes. "Looking at the question from a merely physical 
and industrial point of view, it cannot be doubted that the 
average health, strength and power of the race are 
immensely increased by the fresh air, exercise, and rest 
which the Sunday holiday secures. The addition it makes 
to human happiness, the benefits it bestows on those large 
classes whose whole weekday lives are spent in labour too 
jading and incessant to leave any margin or disposition for 
mental culture, can hardly be over-estimated." (Lecky, 
"Democracy and Liberty," vol. ii.) 

And these are not its only advantages. 


THE Fourth Commandment reads: "Remember the 
Sabbath day to keep it holy." The only way to 
sanctify the Sabbath is self-sanctification. 

"The influence of the Sabbath upon the general 
spiritual improvement of the human race," says Professor 



Lazarus, "and particularly in the way of religious eleva- 
tion . . . was gradually made clear by successive generations 
of Rabbis. Granting as it does the posibility of a spiritual 
life, leisure is regarded as a condition of sanctificati. n. 
Even in the Torah the Sabbath is presented from this point 
of view, when it is designated as ' holy convocation.' ..." 
("Ethics of Judaism," § 186.) But though the main object 
of the Sabbath was devotion to intellectual pursuits, it was 
at the same time intended to be a day of joy, of pleasure 
and happiness, on which fasting and mourning are strictly 
forbidden. The Rabbis, too, maintained that the Sabbath 
was instituted for the benefit of man, and not man for the 
benefit of the Sabbath. But the pleasures of a physical 
nature are raised into the realm of the spiritual. 

Abraham Ibn Ezra (1088-1167) expressed this idea in 
the following verse, which orthodox Jews still sing every 
Sabbath morning at their dinner table : 

" This is indeed, a glorious day, 
It crowns my fervent wishes ; 
I shall indulge in sparkling wine, 
In all the tempting dishes. 
Cheer up, man, profane it not 
With painful thoughts and sorrow, 
Rejoice in all its blessings 
Before the dawn of morrow." 

At the beginning of this century some Assyriologista. 
headed by Friedrich Delitzsch, tried to dispute the Jewish 
origin of the Sabbath. They were impelled not by purely 
scientific motives, but by the desire to minimise the 
importance of the Bible by tracing the origin of its laws 
back to Babylonian influences. But that hypothesis has 
long since been exploded, and the Jewish claim to indis- 
putable priority has been vindicated beyond any doubt. 
(Cf. J. Barth, "Babel und israelitisches Religionswesen, " 
Berlin, 1902.) 




V . 

Reprinted from " THE 1VRV 

by request of the 

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of the 

Jewish Ministers' Association. 



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